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Dr Sheehan Olver wins the Adams Prize in Mathematics



26 March 2012

Dr Sheehan Olver, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has won the 2012 Adams Prize in mathematics - one of the oldest and most prestigious prizes awarded by the University of Cambridge.

Awarded annually to a researcher in the mathematical sciences under the age of 40, the Adams Prize recognises first class international mathematics research. It is awarded jointly by the University of Cambridge's Faculty of Mathematics and St John's College and was first presented in 1850.

Dr Sheehan Olver, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has won the 2012 Adams Prize in mathematics - one of the oldest and most prestigious prizes awarded by the University of Cambridge.
Dr Sheehan Olver, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, has won the 2012 Adams Prize in mathematics - one of the oldest and most prestigious prizes awarded by the University of Cambridge.

The prize, worth £14 000, will be shared in 2012 between Dr Sheehan Olver and Dr Françoise Tisseur from the University of Manchester.

"It is a great honour to win the Adams Prize, especially given the caliber of previous winners, such as James Clerk Maxwell and J J Thomson in the 1800s, Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose jointly in 1966, and Hugh Lowell Montgomery in 1972," said Dr Olver.

"I think it's very important that the University of Cambridge recognises excellence in mathematics with this award."

The 2012 Adams Prize rewarded achievements in Computational Mathematics, so Dr Olver's work in the Applied Mathematics Research Group at the University of Sydney and his previous work at the University of Oxford was recognised for pushing computational mathematics into a brand new direction.

Professor Arieh Iserles, Chairman of the Adams Prize Adjudicators, said, "Dr Olver has been a driving force behind a new methodology using the Riemann-Hilbert transform in the computation of Painlevé equations and problems originating in random matrix theory."

"Addressing exceedingly difficult challenges, he developed and analysed algorithms of great efficacy and profound mathematical beauty," said Professor Iserles.

"His work is setting the standard in an important new area of computational mathematics, with a wide range of applications, from number theory to theoretical physics."

Dr Olver's research in computing Painlevé equations and distributions which arise in random matrix theory has many applications, as it helps us understand a multitude of complicated phenomena.

"Random matrix theory arises in the study of processes that are too complicated to model directly - everything from how neutrons scatter off the uranium 238 atom to the average waiting times of buses," explained Dr Olver.

"My work facilitates the computation of statistical distributions that describe the behaviour of these processes and I hope that it will lead to a better understanding of such complex phenomena," said Dr Olver.

"I also work on the computation of Painlevé equations, which are nonlinear special functions that are useful for describing nonlinear phenomena, such as shallow waves in water. In order to use Painlevé equations in practical applications it's essential that we are able to compute their solutions."

As part of the Adams Prize, Dr Olver will publish a substantial original article in an internationally recognised journal surveying a significant part of his research field.

On his move from the University of Oxford to the University of Sydney in November last year, Dr Olver said, "The weather's a lot better here in Sydney! Despite the unusual amount of rain this summer, it's still better than in the UK."

The Adams Prize is named after the mathematician John Couch Adams and commemorates Adams' role in the discovery of the planet Neptune, through calculation of the discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus.


Contact: Katynna Gill

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